Meet Will Hillis (a character sketch – Until Summer)

He wants to be kind and not feel anger all the time, but the scars run too deep.

As her older brother, Will sees himself as Meredith’s protector. He does all he can to fill the gap created by a missing father and to keep her and their little brothers safe from men who seek to harm them. So many things happen, though, that are out of his control. Still, when she gets hurt, he blames himself. It’s a burden no boy should have to carry. He loves her and she loves him, but will that stop the lies that echo in his head?

Until Summer is a story of love and hope against the darkness of trauma and addiction. You can find it on Amazon for Kindle and Kindle Unlimited and in paperback. Check out the free 3-chapter preview.

Photo by: unsplash.com/@ryantauss

The Smuggler – a short story (writing prompt Wednesday)

image cred: unsplash.com/@juanrojas

Here is this week’s story for Writing Prompt Wednesday (prompt at the bottom)

“Stop looking over your shoulder,” I whispered through gritted teeth.

Jon glanced forward again and down. “We’re being watched,” he replied. “Two officers, seven o’clock.”

I didn’t bother to turn. I knew better. “Gee. Wonder why?”

Jon was next in line. A Customs agent peeked up from his post and motioned him through the turnstile.

“Stay calm,” I said as Jon started toward the counter with his bag. I hated taking new recruits, especially when there was a good chance of a situation going south like it had. I couldn’t blame Jon too much. He was doing well until the blast. Now, we were only a few feet from freedom and the best payday I ever had, if only he could play it chill.

The agent was about to stamp Jon’s passport when one of the officers approached. Great. I felt a towering presence. Behind me stood another officer, at least a foot taller than me.

“Pardon me, sir, but I need you to come with me.”

I smirked.

A few minutes later, we sat in a cold room at a metal table that held our bags. The officers hadn’t handcuffed us, but the tall one stood at the door with his arms crossed. His body language made it clear that we would not be leaving soon. I glanced at the clock above the door. It took eight minutes until another man stepped into the room, wearing a white button-down shirt and black tie. A badge rested on one hip and a gun on the other.

He tossed my passport onto the table. “Mr. Benjamin Anderson.”

“That’s me.”

He did the same with Jon’s. “Mr. Jonathon Warhol.”

Jon gulped and nodded.

“Why you nervous, kid?”

“I… Because… I…”

“He suffers from chronic anxiety,” I said.

“I didn’t ask you, Mr. Anderson.” The man didn’t press Jon further, though. Instead, he turned toward me. “Brazil is a restricted country.”

“Restricted,” I replied, “but not illegal.”

“You travel there often.”

“I love the culture.”

“Mmm. And the purpose of your trip?”

“I’m part of an organization that works with an orphanage in Guarulhos. I have paperwork to…”

“I’ve seen your paperwork.”

“Then, might I ask, why are we being detained?”

The man, who had yet to share his name, narrowed his eyes. “You and Mr. Warhol checked out of a hotel in Guarulhos shortly after an explosion nearby.”

I nodded. “It was very chaotic. We were fortunate to make it to the airport in time. I haven’t seen much news. Were many people hurt?”

“Yes. Five were killed.”

“That’s tragic.”

The man grunted. “We’re going to search your bags.”

I shrugged. “Go ahead. We didn’t have an opportunity to wash our clothes, so you might want to be careful.”

Jon fidgeted, but I leaned back and folded my arms as the tall officer approached and opened our luggage. He removed our clothing, felt around the inside of the case, and called for another agent with a dog. The dog ignored our suitcases but whined and scratched at Jon’s clothing. The officers then unfolded every item and searched through the pockets, but all they found was a pack of chewing gum. It was a waste of our time and theirs.

The man in the tie didn’t look happy. “You may go. Sorry for any inconvenience.”

I grinned as I repacked my case. “Always a pleasure.”

As we headed for the airport’s exit, I texted an unspecified number in my phone that we were ready for our ride. A red minivan met us on the loop outside the terminal. Jon didn’t say much, but I chatted with the driver. Her name was Samantha. Of everyone I knew, she was the fastest through the busy streets of Chicago.

Our destination was an office building three blocks south of Willis Tower. Samantha dropped us off outside, and a man named Bryan greeted us and escorted us to the fourth floor. We sat in another room with our bags on the table, but this room was well-lit and cozy. I prided myself on having nice furniture at home, but these chairs put mine to shame.

We didn’t have to wait long before Robert Reynolds, a chunky man who I was sure slept in a three-piece suit, entered with a big grin. “Another successful run?” he asked as he keyed a special code on the locks of our luggage.

“We had a few problems.”

“I heard.”

“Our contact was compromised.”

“But you took care of her?”

“Of course. There was unfortunate collateral, but we weren’t seen.”

“Good. We’ll have to find a new location, though. Guarulhos isn’t safe for us anymore.”

I nodded but sighed. “Understandable. I’ll miss it. I love the nightlife there.”

“How were these new cases?”

“The dogs didn’t even find anything.”

“Good. Good.” He popped open the case, but instead of clothes, there were rows of tiny brown bags. Robert’s smile grew even larger. “Beautiful.” He tossed me a bag. “Here’s your cut.” He then glanced at Jon. “How’d my nephew do?”

“He’s not going to work out.”

“What?” Jon whipped his head toward me.

“Sorry, kid,” I said. “You’re the reason we were stopped by Customs.”

“That’s too bad.” Robert snapped his fingers.

“But…”

A large man grabbed the front of Jon’s shirt and lifted him from the chair. Jon protested and begged as tears filled his eyes. The large man was undeterred in dragging him from the room. I knew better than to ask what would become of Jon.

Robert tossed me another bag. “You get his as well.” He then motioned for a woman who held a smaller case. She set it on the table and opened the lid. Leaning forward with a grin, I thumbed through stacks of one-hundred-dollar bills. “Go buy you and the Missus a nice steak.”

“The nicest,” I replied.

It was after dark when I made it home to Bourbonnais. The lights were off. It didn’t surprise me that Jacquie and Matthew were in bed. My wife worked early, and Matthew had preschool. I set one of the bags Robert gave me on the kitchen table along with the case of money. I took the other bag to the counter, ripped it open, and inhaled the aroma. Measuring two tablespoons, I hit the button to start the machine.

Soft footsteps crossed the wood floor behind me.

“Hey, babe,” I said and turned. My toothy smile faded as I saw Jacquie with a gun pointed at my chest. Tears flooded her cheeks. “What are you doing?”

“I’m sorry, Bennie. I already called the police.”

“Why would you do that?” I asked.

Her hands trembled. With her finger on the trigger, that worried me more than Jon’s anxiety.

“I saw on the news,” she said as she sniffed. “The explosion… I can’t…” She bit her lip. “I can’t do this anymore. That’s blood on my hands if I do nothing.”

I heard sirens and sighed. Then, I chuckled. “You remember our first date? We went to that little café in Evanston. I introduced you to blonde roast. You said it was the best coffee you ever drank. It was a year later when President O’Brien issued that executive order making coffee illegal. He never should have done that, but look around, babe. That decision drove up the prices, and my work is why we can afford this house and Matthew’s private school and that favorite necklace of yours.”

The sirens cut off, but red and blue lights flashed through our windows. Jacquie lowered the gun, took a seat, and sobbed as fists pounded on our front door.

“ATCF, open up!”

The door flew open, and agents rushed in. I held up my hands and lowered myself to my knees.

“I love you, Jacquie. I always will. Tell Matthew that daddy loves him. Take care of our boy.”

The coffeemaker dinged.

The government would cut me a deal. If I named names and agreed to testify, I’d only serve twenty-five years.

But as officers handcuffed me on my kitchen floor, I knew what my arrest meant. I inhaled the deepest breath I could. I loved the fragrance of coffee. Sadly, though, I had drunk my last cup.

Today’s prompt is from: https://www.writtenwordmedia.com/500-writing-prompts-to-help-beat-writers-doubt/#5

Coffee is illegal and you have to single handedly smuggle it into the country.

Meet Gary Westmorland (a character sketch – Gary and Collin vs. The Interdimensional Aliens)

When you live in a town as small as Smithville, sometimes your last name means people don’t give you much of a chance.

Gary Westmorland is a good kid who tries to avoid trouble (though there was that fire alarm incident). The problem is, everyone knows his dad is Bryce Westmorland, a man who can’t seem to stay out of trouble. When people look at 10-year-old Gary, instead of seeing a boy who tries his best, they see trouble waiting to happen.

Everything is about to change, though, when an alien named Martin shows up and asks Gary the question: “Come on, kid. You want to save the world or not?”

Adventure follows as Gary, his cousin Collin, and their new friend Martin set out to stop Mavis, an evil alien from another dimension, and her hoard of dragons. Gary will soon learn that he is the only one who can wield the weapon that will stop Mavis from taking over our universe, but fear and self-doubt threaten to stop him.

Gary and Collin vs. The Interdimensional Aliens is a story of overcoming fear and finding strength in reliance on others. You can sample the first chapter by clicking here, or purchase the book on Amazon for Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, or Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08J3TDVX1.

You can now follow me on Facebook: facebook.com/bergmanwrites

Meet Daniel Wagner (a character sketch – Until Summer)

He loves his son and longs to be a good dad, but he’s afraid he doesn’t know how.

When Daniel first met Meredith, he was an awkward teenager who was abandoned by his mother and raised by an uncle who struggled to show him love. Smoking pot and singing along with The Smashing Pumpkins helped him to drown out his feelings.

Fast-forward twenty years, and Daniel is struggling to raise his teenage son on his own and break free from his drug addiction. When he hits rock bottom, living in a car and digging for meals in dumpsters, he decides that placing his son back into foster care is the only way to give the boy an opportunity for a better life.

With his son placed as a foster child in Meredith’s home, Daniel reconnects with his old flame. But will it set him on a path toward healing and reunification, or will it give him an excuse to disappear into the demons of his addiction forever?

Until Summer is a story of love and hope against the darkness of trauma and addiction. You can find it on Amazon for Kindle and Kindle Unlimited and in paperback. Check out the free three-chapter sample.

You can now follow me on Facebook: facebook.com/bergmanwrites

Photo by: unsplash.com/@henmankk

Meet Callum Martindale (a character sketch – The Secret Baker)

Ten-year-old Callum is good at mazes and video games and, well, not much else. His dad was a star high school baseball player, and his mom and sister are pretty good at basketball. Ask Callum about sports and he’ll tell you, “I’m as athletic as a sloth.” People expect him to be good at more, but since it’s not sports, he’s not sure what that’s supposed to be.

Until one day, he has to stay home from school sick. He ends up watching a baking show with his mom, decides to try baking, and discovers that he is actually pretty good at it.

Callum gets the idea to secretly leave surprise treats around his school with the help of his best friend, Ryan, even calling himself Captian Cookie! The Secret Baker! But when the school bully finds out, will his secret remain a secret?

The Secret Baker is a story for kids ages 8-12ish about learning to be yourself and embrace what you’re good at, no matter what other people think. Read Chapter 1 for free by clicking here (PDF).

You can find the book on Amazon for Kindle and Kindle Unlimited and in paperback.

Writing Prompt Wednesday (Characters in a Crunch)

Today’s writing prompt comes from Writers’ Digest. Click on over and join the discussion there: https://www.writersdigest.com/be-inspired/characters-in-a-crunch

Here’s my contribution:

“Oh, my gosh, Dad! What did you do?”

James stopped chewing mid-crunch and glanced up from his phone. His eyes were wide as Kole and Katie, still in their pajamas, stared at him.

“What?”

Katie held up the nearly empty cereal box and shook it. There were two, maybe three pieces left as crumbs. “Trix are for kids, Dad!”

“Sorry,” James muttered. Then he finished chewing his bite. “I was starving, and it was the only cereal we had. Your mom is shopping. She’s buying more. If you’re really that hungry, I can make you pancakes or something.”

Seven-year-old Kole had been scowling, but his eyes grew wide and his jaw dropped. Both he and ten-year-old Katie took a step back, but the boy cowered behind his sister. James followed his gaze and peered over his shoulder. He jumped, startled, and nearly spilled the remaining cereal and milk as he scurried to the opposite side of the table.

A six-foot-tall white cartoon rabbit stood in the kitchen. Its ears flopped as it cocked its head. “Hello, James.”

“This can’t be real.”

“Oh, I’m real.” The rabbit’s eyes narrowed. “Did you enjoy your lemony yellow and orangey orange, James?”

James sidestepped so he stood between the rabbit and his children. “They were alright. Froot Loops are better.”

The rabbit shook its head. “You shouldn’t have done it, James. You shouldn’t have eaten the Trix.”

“What do you want, Rabbit?”

The rabbit opened its mouth. A ray of sparkling blue light poured from the dark cavern behind its bright red tongue. Katie and Kole dropped to the floor. Katie hid her eyes, but Kole gawked. James felt warmth as the light enveloped him. It was soothing, like crawling under an electric blanket on a chilly evening. His clothes seemed to grow bigger. James stared at his hands and watched his wedding ring slide off and strike the linoleum with a clink.

That was when he realized his clothes weren’t getting larger.

The light faded, and James grabbed the waist of his pants to keep them from falling. “You turned me into a kid?” he squeaked.

The rabbit grinned. “There!” He pointed at the table, and a new box of cereal appeared. “Now you can enjoy all the Trix you want!” The rabbit turned and strolled out the back door.

Katie and Kole stood. James shook his head. “Your mom is going to kill me.” He glanced down at himself and sighed. Then he cocked his head and eyed his son. “I’m going to have to borrow some of your clothes.”

Photo cred: https://unsplash.com/@nyanastoica